BOSTON, A teenager was convicted Tuesday of murdering his high school math teacher in an attack that drew attention for such savagery by a young person.
Philip D. Chism, 16, was found guilty of the first-degree murder, aggravated rape and armed robbery of Danvers High School math teacher Colleen Ritzer after school Oct. 22, 2013.. The jury acquitted him of one count of aggravated rape.
Chism was emotionless as the verdict was read. Chism’s mother, Diana, doubled over.
Colleen Ritzer’s father, Tom, thanked the jury, but said “There can never be true justice for the crime that was committed.”
Defense attorneys argued Chism was insane with previously un-diagnosed early-onset schizophrenia when he committed the crimes. The jury rejected Chism’s insanity plea. Prosecutors used the testimony of psychology experts who said Chism’s inconsistency in tests implied he was faking mental illness.
Prosecutors also showed Chism’s planning — bringing a ski mask, gloves, and box cutter to school on the day of the attack, his putting on gloves as he stalked Ritzer into the school bathroom where he attacked her, and his careful disposal of the body as evidence he knew what he was doing.
Jurors heard 53 witness testimonies over 13 days. They took 11 hours to reach a verdict. A status hearing for sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 22.
Superior Court Judge David A. Lowy’s could sentence Chism to life with a chance at parole in 15 to 25 years under new rulings that limit sentencing for juveniles.
According to court testimony, on Oct. 22, 2013, then 14-year-old Chism followed Ritzer into a girls’ bathroom after school and strangled, stabbed and raped her. A student walked into the bathroom, interrupting the attack, saw Chism naked from the waist down and promptly left.
Chism brought in a large recycling barrel, put Ritzer inside it and took it to nearby woods. Chism then raped Ritzer a second time with a tree branch and cut her throat with a plastic box cutter.
Ritzer’s family reported her missing that night and her body was found the next day in a shallow grave covered with leaves, pine needles and twigs in the woods next to the school. She was partially naked and posed in a sexual position.
A handwritten note was found at the scene that read, “I hate you all.” Various evidence was also found at the scene.
Chism’s mother also reported her son missing and Topsfield police found Chism walking a highway after midnight that night with the bloody box cutter, credit cards and women’s underwear.
Chism is also being prosecuted for a case with similarities to Ritzer. He’s accused of attempted murder by strangulation, assault with intent to murder, kidnapping, and two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon of a state Department of Youth Services worker in June 2014. That case will be heard Wednesday in Suffolk County Juvenile Court.
By Shawn Price